We could hear a rustling in the leaves high above our heads, the thick canopy hiding whatever activity was capturing our curiosity. The soft trill and chirping indicated to Thomas that this was a troop of Diana monkeys feeding through the canopy. Thomas, our lead guide, quietly led us off-trail in the direction of the troop. Here and there branches tossed and swooshed as monkeys leapt from limb to limb, trilling and chattering back and forth. We were nearly under them when all went silent, then, abruptly, the male called out a bark warning that we were discovered. The troop wasted no time scuttling through the canopy, occasionally catching the sunlight as they fled, the sun revealing a striking white, gray and russet pelage.
The trees and landscape of Sapo National Park are nothing short of impressive. This tropical rainforest comprises approximately 42% of the remaining Upper Guinean Forest and is the second-largest area of tropical rainforest in West Africa. The fairy-tale landscape, where trees can grow to a height of 70 meters, contains ancient Sacoglottis, with buttresses spreading over 4 meters diameter. The red ironwood tree, Ekki, growing straight and tall to a height of 30 to 50 meters, its trunk up to 2 meters diameter. These durable hardwood trees have been used as bridge supports across many streams in Liberia, their rot and insect resistant qualities noted. Strangler figs weave a network of constricting vines around some trees, gradually killing their host while climbing up to breach the canopy. Uapaca trees are plentiful and easy to spot, with branching stilt roots looking like a reverse tree crown. The roots provide a wide stance for the tree to stabilize in seasonally-flooded parts of the forest. Other forest giants I am slowly identifying punctuate the forest trails throughout the park.
Hiding among spreading tree buttresses along the trail, a duiker darts into the forest as we approach. We follow slowly, trying for another sighting and come across a troop of black and white colobus monkeys picking leaves in the canopy. They are not yet aware of us so we stop in the shadows while they graze among the branches until we are discovered. In a flurry they are gone, traveling swiftly through the canopy.
As we return to the trail I hear a crashing through the leaf litter behind me. Thinking it is Kollie, our second guide, running to catch us, I turn to see a pair of zebra duikers bearing down. Their sprint carries them between myself and Lisa, nearly running into Lisa as they careen past. Racing through a patch of sunlight, the nearest is illuminated for a brief moment, revealing a striking animal with rich golden flanks crossed by a set of dark brown vertical stripes. This duiker, the size of a small goat, looks as surprised as the rest of us.
A rewarding day in the forest, the trees, monkeys and duikers provided a memorable experience. Some faded tracks of pygmy hippos and elephants hint at what else calls this forest home, and beckons us to return another time.